New Delhi: This has been a useful and instructive discussion. It was titled "Short Duration Discussion on need to lay down specific parameters for conducting the Census, 2011." It was spread over two days and a large number of Hon'ble Members from all sections of the House have spoken.
The central issue of the debate, as expected, was whether information on the caste of the respondent should be collected in the on-going Census 2011.
Before I respond to that issue, I wish to explain a few aspects of Census 2011 and the National Population Register which I believe will be useful to all Honourable Members. The census is done under the authority of the Census Act, 1948. Census 2011 will be the fifteenth national census since 1872 and the 7th since Independence. Population census is the total process of collecting demographic, economic and social data. What is published as the Census data are only aggregates; the information relating to the individual is confidential and not shared with anyone or any authority. Census 2011 will be conducted in two phases - the first phase is called the House listing and Housing census and the second phase is called the Population Enumeration. The questions to be canvassed during the two phases were decided on the basis of suggestions made during the data users' conference, experience of past censuses and the recommendations of the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) comprising eminent demographers, statisticians, social scientists and senior officers representing different Ministries and Departments of the Central Government.
The Citizenship Act is a separate law. The Citizenship Act was amended in 2003 and the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003 were notified on December 10, 2003. Rule 2(l) defines "population register". It is the register containing details of persons usually residing in a village or rural area or town or ward or demarcated area within a ward in a town or urban area. Rule 2(k) defines "National Register of Indian Citizens" as the register containing details of Indian citizens living in India and outside India. Rule 2(n) defines "State Register of Indian citizens" as the register containing details of Indian citizens usually residing in the State. Sub-rule (1) of Rule 3 mandates the Registrar General to establish and maintain the National Register of Indian Citizens and sub-rule (4) thereof directs the preparation of a Population Register. Rule 4 specifies the steps to be taken during the enumeration. One of the steps is house to house enumeration for collecting specified particulars relating to each family and individual including the citizenship status. Sub-rule (3) of Rule 4 requires that the particulars collected of every family and individual in the Population Register shall be verified and scrutinised and, under sub-rule (4), in case of doubtful citizenship the individual or the family shall be informed immediately after the verification process is over. Therefore, the Rules require preparation of both the Population Register and the Register of Citizens. It will be obvious that the Register of Citizens will be a subset of the Population Register. This should clarify why information is being collected for preparation of the National Population Register and how the Register of Citizens will be established and maintained thereafter.
The two exercises that are underway are Census 2011 and the exercise of preparing the National Population Register. The fact that both exercises are being undertaken by the Registrar General of India may have led to a certain lack of understanding of the objects and purposes of the two exercises. Nevertheless, it is important to note the distinction between Census 2011 and the NPR.
I shall now turn to Census 2011. As I said, this is the 15th census. Information relating to the caste of each member of the household was last collected and published in detail in 1931. After independence, as a matter of policy, the question relating to caste, other than scheduled caste and scheduled tribe, was not included. An Hon'ble Member has quoted Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. What he said is well known to all of us. Caste was not included in the last Census of 2001 also. I may point out that the records show that an attempt was made by the Ministry of Social Justice to include caste as one of the questions that should be canvassed during the 2001 census. However, the Government of the day - the NDA Government - did not take a decision to that effect and maintained the policy that has been in force since 1951.
There are two questions here. The first question is, 'whether it is desirable to enumerate the caste of each member of the household?' The second question is, assuming that it is desirable to do so, 'is the census the vehicle to carry out the enumeration?'
I do not wish to enter into a debate on the first question. There can be different views on the subject and we must respect each other's views. In fact, Hon'ble Members who said that "caste is a reality" also acknowledged that caste is a divisive factor and that we are nowhere near establishing a casteless society.
It is the second question that is relevant for the present discussion. The Registrar General has pointed out a number of logistic and practical difficulties in canvassing the question of caste while conducting the census. In this connection, we must keep the distinction between 'enumeration' on the one hand and 'compilation, analysis and dissemination' on the other. It has been pointed out that the census is meant to collect 'observational data'. 21 lakh enumerators, mostly primary school teachers, have been selected and trained. They have been trained to ask the question and record the answer as returned by the respondent. The enumerator is not an investigator or verifier. And, it must be clearly understood, that the enumerator has no training or expertise to classify the answer as OBC or otherwise. As Hon'ble Members are aware, there is a central list of Other Backward Classes and State-specific lists of Other Backward Classes. Some States do not have a list of OBCs; some States have a list of OBCs and a sub-set called Most Backward Classes.
The Registrar General has also pointed out that there are certain open-ended categories in the lists such as orphans and destitute children. Names of some castes are found in both the list of Scheduled Castes and list of OBCs. Scheduled Castes converted to Christianity or Islam are also treated differently in different States. The status of a migrant from one State to another and the status of children of inter-caste marriage, in terms of caste classification, are also vexed questions.
The Registrar General has also pointed out that, assuming that it is desirable to canvass the question of caste, further issues will arise regarding the methodology, avoiding phonetic and spelling errors, stage of canvassing, maintaining the integrity of the enumeration, doing an accurate headcount of the population etc.
Let me reiterate that the main objective of the population census is to do an accurate de-facto headcount of the usual residents in India on the deemed date i.e. 00.00 hours on March 1, 2011. Based on universally applied scientific demographic tools, we have an estimate of what the population of India will be on that day. However, it is necessary and desirable to make an accurate headcount. Hence, the Census. I am sure Hon'ble Members will agree with me when I say that nothing should be done that may affect the accuracy of the headcount or the integrity of the population census.
Hon'ble Members: The discussion in this House over the last two days has thrown up a number of arguments and reasons for canvassing the question of caste. Government is already seized of the matter. The views of Hon'ble Members will certainly be a valuable guide to the Government.
I hear the Hon'ble Members loudly and clearly. As I understand the Hon'ble Members, what they want is that the question of caste must be canvassed. That means, to the best of my understanding, the enumerator should record whatever answer the respondent gives to the question 'what is your caste?' At that point of time, it is simply collection of the information. According to Hon'ble Members, it is desirable to collect the information. Government will certainly keep in mind the views of Hon'ble Members.
I assure the House that Government will give due weight to all aspects of the issue that was discussed in this House during the last two days.